DOWNINGTOWN, Pa., April 11, 2012 — Go to enough dinners paired with wine or beer and they can begin to take on the same look, feel, and taste that follow a common formula.
On January 31, Victory Brewing Company conducted a memorable beer dinner and tasting event — called Terroir des Tettangs — with a bit of a twist at their Downingtown, Pa. restaurant.
Not only did the brewery bring out six different beers and a couple plates of food as perfect accompaniment, but they showcased the beers along with the hop farmers and brewers from Germany to successfully present the theme of the evening.
Owner Ron Barchet began the evening from the head table presenting the history of Victory’s brewing with a visual overhead slideshow. The brewery’s roots can be traced back to Barchet’s time spent in the Tettnang region working and learning about German beer brewing. In fact, it was a taste of Waldhaus Pils that first led him down the road of exploration and yearning to know more about the process of brewing what became his favorite beer.
Barchet and his childhood friend, Bill Covaleski, created Victory Brewing Company of Downingtown, Pa. in 1996 and they have long known what many fans and brewers of well-made beer have long held: that the source of the brewing and the source of the ingredients can play a significant role in the final product.
The word terroir has long been used in the world of wine to describe the influence that place can have on each bottle of wine. The place in terms primarily of the soil in which the grapes were grown and the climate of any given year in which the grapes were matured and harvested.
Why could the same not also apply to a beer? Can parallels not be drawn to this yet more complex beverage?
From the grain and hops grown in the field to the yeast — particularly for wild yeast utilized in an open air fermentation — place can certainly have an impact on how a beer is brewed and how it ultimately tastes. Even the composition and quality of the source water plays a role in the style of beer that winds up in the bottle.
So it was a big deal when Victory conducted this beer event for nearly 75 guests. But it was not just any beer event. It did not feature a whole lineup of beer.
In fact, it featured only one beer, Victory’s Braumeister Pils; but, this one beer was hopped five different ways to showcase the nuanced differences and, in effect, make six different beers.
The original recipe resulted in a very consistent base beer, before hopping. For the technically-inclined, the unfiltered base beer that was brewed on November 3 had a gravity between 10.6-11.0 Plato, final ABV between 4.9%-5.2%, and IBUs between 50-54. The base malt bill for the beer was the same and the recipe was the same until it came to the hops.
Five batches were sourced with Tettnanger hops from the small Tettnang region of southern Germany, near Lake Constance and not far from Switzerland: one batch from Reitplatz, one from Dietmannsweiler, two from Missenhardt, and one from Strass. A sixth, a blend of all five, created the “Braumeister Blend” version.
All farms are mere miles from each other and, interestingly, to further explore the concept of terroir in beer, the two Missenhardt beers were each sourced with its own batch of Tettanger hops that were picked three days apart. The intention was to showcase flavor and aroma differences in hops that are left on the bines longer and picked later.
The guest farmers/brewers have strong ties with Victory as they source a significant amount Tettnanger hops (one of four European hop varietals referred to as Noble Hops known for their aromatics more so than their bitterness) used in the annual production of Victory’s renowned pilsner beers.
At the tasting event, after Barchet provided background for the event and introduced his German guests — Robert Bentele, his girlfriend Sonja Moninger (a former Tettnang region Hop Queen), Ludwig Locher, and his sister Maria Locher — the format of the tasting event continued with an interactive tasting of all five beers. Barchet coordinated the tastings by encouraging interaction between the attendees and the panel assembled at the head table.
The brewery’s event invitation advised that no “welcome beer” would be provided nor should participants partake of anything too palate-altering prior to the event. This was solid advice given the subtle differences between the beers. All would need their palates to be as receptive as possible when tasting these beers.
And subtlety was certainly the key word of the evening.
Some were softer and rounder in their smoothness while others were more fruity, spicy, or perfumey. Some were understated, others bolder, and one that contained a better perceived balance.
My favorite of the evening was the version from Reitplatz. It had slight pepper spiciness and noticeable lemon zestiness. The “day 1” Missenhardt, to my palate, was better than the “day 4” in terms of balance.
A 50-barrel batch of each beer was initially made and, as of early April, all beers except the Strass variety were still available at the brewery’s restaurant and bar in Downingtown.
Stop by for yourself and take the Tettnang challenge to discover for yourself the terroir of beer.
For more pictures from the event, visit The Brew Lounge.
Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at Washington Times.
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